Hot Zone

by Catherine Mann

4 Star Review

Earth-Shaking Action and Romance

Hot Zone by Catherine Mann

Reviewed:   February 29,  2012

Genre:   Romantic Suspense

Series:   Elite Force, Book 2

Rating:   4  Stars

Length:   352 Pages

Formats:   Print, eBook

Disclosures:   An ARC of this book was provided to me by Sourcebooks Casablanca publisher Sourcebooks via NetGalley.

This rating, review, and all included thoughts and comments are my own.

What I Read...

Waking up buried under several tons of rubble is not Amelia Bailey's idea of a good time, but she survived the earthquake that leveled the hotel she was staying in, so she can hardly complain. Being able to feel, if not see, her new nephew has also survived is even better. So long as she doesn't think about what's left to endure, or panic about not being found, she'll be okay. Relatively speaking.

Amelia had come to the Bahamas with her brother and sister-in-law to act as their lawyer and help facilitate the international adoption of baby Joshua. Now she's trapped, with no idea if her brother and sister-in-law are still alive, and worried that help won't reach her and the baby before they both succumb to the dust, debris, and weight of the world resting precariously above them.

As an Air Force Pararescuman, Master Sergeant Hugh Franco is used to being on the front lines of rescues and natural disasters. Since the death of his wife and daughter five years ago, he's the first to volunteer for the most dangerous, potentially fatal missions. He doesn't do it solely out of a desire to rescue victims, or just to keep other members of his team safe, in particular those with families. He does it because he doesn't care if he survives. He's just marking time until he gets to see his family again. That's all. Anyone he rescues in the meantime is just gravy.

That's why Hugh is crawling through some of the worst debris he's ever seen after one of the rescue dogs signals a live soul in the rubble. When he finds the trapped individual, sees the wary hope in the eyes of the woman he's found, he quickly sets about stabilizing her until his team can free her. Then she tells him about the baby, stuck just beyond where her body lies under a twist of concrete and steel. A baby he knows could not possibly still be alive.

Getting Amelia free is his only concern, but it's not the only problem. When they are finally pulled from the rubble, they emerge into a world of devastation and chaos. Aftershocks threaten the rescue missions, searchers work frantically to save lives, and armed guards struggle to defend against desperate looters. It's as if Armageddon has been unleashed. Then one lone, tiny wail of furious life echoes across the filthy crowd of men and women and Hugh's soul practically shreds, even as it shifts a little inside him.

Joshua is alive, just as Amelia had tried to tell him. And no matter what, for whatever reason this woman and child still live, Hugh can't help but feel compelled to make sure they continue to do so. But natural disasters of this magnitude do more than highlight the best in humanity...they also bring out the worst. The opportunists, the users, and the vilest criminals take advantage when the whole world is looking away.

His self-appointed task isn't over. Not by a long shot. Amelia and Josh may have survived the earthquake, but it will take every ounce of his strength and training to keep them alive when faced with with a human monster working an evil agenda. One who has no compunction about making them all collateral damage.

What I Thought...

It would be impossible to read this story and not be reminded of the earthquake in Haiti, or to think of the number of scenarios that play out during a natural disaster that would so closely resemble the beginning of this book. To imagine with sorrow the number of incidents that don't end nearly as well as it does for Amelia and Joshua. It's a sobering thought, and a powerful way to kick off a book.

This is my first read of Catherine Mann, and if this story is any indication of what's come before, shame on me for the oversight. Action-packed and intense, this military-themed romantic suspense was also uniquely believable and touched on an array of human emotions and human conditions that were realistic, even in such a tragically surreal situation. Despite the larger-than-life heroes, or maybe because of them, getting a gritty view of a horrific rescue mission in less than ideal circumstances was surprisingly moving.

The lead characters, Hugh and Amelia, were fantastic in their roles. Not only did they have excellent chemistry together, each had a backstory and toted around enough baggage to lend their characters depth and dimension. I had no trouble at all understanding exactly where Hugh's frame of mind was at the beginning of the book, and I felt deeply for Amelia's past and the emotional journey she was on during the story.

I liked them, both of them, very much, and because I liked them both so much, it was easy to get swept up in their wild, bumpy ride of survival, endurance, and perseverance.

I'm still sort of up in the air about the ancillary plotlines and shifting character POVs, though. I didn't dislike them, really. I valued seeing the rescue command from Liam's perspective, and getting more information on Amelia's brother's history, as well as seeing how things fell into place with his wife. Those elements did make me feel I'd missed some previous story development and setup, though, and I'm not sure either thread was as fleshed out as needed to give them a true presence and significance in the book as a whole. And Liam's thread felt like it was left awkwardly dangling with no resolution whatsoever.

I also wasn't totally sold on the kidnapping/baby ring. I thought the motivations of the Bad Guy was fascinating, and I felt it was an interesting twist in an already horrible situation, but I wasn't convinced by the execution or the actions of the characters involved. If it had been more thoroughly developed and liberally sprinkled throughout the book, maybe, but as it was, it more divided the book in a way that I didn't find completely satisfying, and the resolution of that thread was a bit abrupt.

Amelia's and Hugh's character and relationship evolution were the high points of the book for me, and frankly, those points were very high. I felt their passion; I felt for their pain. And I just flat-out enjoyed reading about them both. For romantic suspense with a hefty side of action-adventure, this book was a huge success for me, and provided many hours of luscious reading entertainment. I have every intention of continuing this series and reading more of Catherine Mann's books.

~*~

Happy Reading! ~ Tracy

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